Discovering Laragon for Local WP Development

Run WordPress on a Laptop?

Impatient? Click here for the TL;DR.

Have you ever thought it might be fun to experiment freely with WordPress? I mean without the fear of wrecking your existing site, fumbling with server settings, or paying for hosting you aren’t sure you even want?

When I discovered WordPress years ago, a friend hosted my first site. After a while I bought web hosting, and eventually started helping others with WordPress. Later I found XAMPP, and it served me well for several computers (even through the MacBook Pro experiment).

XAMPP was a great tool. It gave me a bigger sandbox, some new toys, and a sense of freedom. It simplified the development and theme-editing process. It also required a fair amount of work to set up a new instance of WP.

Enter Laragon

Recently I needed to set up a development environment on a new laptop. A search for “Windows alternatives to XAMPP” turned up Laragon.

In under 40 minutes, I had downloaded and installed Laragon. Then I found the unadvertised “Quick App” tool that installed WordPress. It worked quickly and flawlessly. I didn’t have to create a new database and user. I didn’t have to remove any big-brother bloatware that many one-click installs force upon their unwitting users.

As icing on the cake, I can type a “real-looking” domain name in my browser (I’m writing this at simple.test). In theory, XAMPP can do that too, but I never managed to wrangle the arcane configuration files to confirm that.

Let’s Do This!

Are you ready to try it? Here are the basic steps to set up your own local hosting environment.

You will need a Windows PC (desktop or laptop). I’m running Windows 10, but it will probably work on Win7 or Windows 8 (did anybody ever use that?).

Download Laragon

There are three options on the Download page. I used the Full version, but the Lite version would have worked fine. If you have older hardware you might want the Portable version. The link directed me to SourceForge to start download. Save the file to your hard drive.

Install it.

  • Find the file you downloaded and run it.
  • Click “Next” to accept the installation directory.
  • I disabled the Auto-start because I won’t use Laragon all the time. Leave it checked if you expect to use it often.
  • Click Next, then click “Install” and wait a few minutes.
  • At one point I had to click a Windows security box to allow the “Auto virtual hosts” feature.
  • When the wizard completes, click Finish to start Laragon.
  • Click the “Start All” button.

That’s pretty much it.

Quick Tour and Interface

  • The Menu is grayed out. It took a few moments before I realized I could click it.
  • Menu/Laragon/Web will launch a browser and load the Laragon splash page.
  • Menu/Laragon/Database launches a browser tab with PHPMyAdmin. The default user is root, empty password. (I had to Google it.)
  • Menu/Laragon/Terminal is for the hard-core Linux user. This will probably allow power users to play with the WP-CLI.
  • Clicking X in the Laragon window minimizes it to the system tray.

Installing WordPress

Enough already. Let’s get WordPress running.

  • Menu/Quick App/WordPress

    prompts for a project name…

    then runs through a few items on the back end. Windows will notify you that it created a new database and project with a pretty URL.
  • Click Visit site to finish start the WordPress installation.
  • Choose your language and continue.
  • Remember to copy your password! I’m serious. I did not, and I spent more time figuring out how to get the password reset link (more about that in the gotchas) than I did installing WordPress.
    11. WP Install - Save your Password!
  • After a few more clicks you’re ready to go!
    12. Success - WP Installed

Welcome to your Dashboard!

Welcome to your WordPress Dashboard!

With a fresh WordPress install, it took a little while to load the site the first time. After that it was pretty snappy. Even the block editor didn’t totally suck.

This is your WP installation. You have complete control. You can install any plugins or themes you like. Experiment. Learn CSS, PHP or JavaScript. Back it up. Break it. Restore it. Build your skills and your confidence.

Gotchas

Interface
The Menu is grayed out. It took me a while to realize that I could click it.

Email
Email doesn’t work out of the box.

via GIPHY

The mail configuration wants to use a gmail account. Google handily blocked this (and sent me a few notifications of an access attempt). I haven’t needed this feature it yet, so I have not gone farther to debug.

Email Catcher
Leave this enabled. It will let you to see the contents of the emails that Laragon couldn’t send. I needed this to reset my password. Twice.

The Mail Catcher lets you see what the system tried to send (and couldn’t).

Add-ons and Upgrades
I tried adding the latest version of PHP (I think it was 7.4 when I first installed Laragon) and Apache wouldn’t run. I switched back to PHP 7.2.19 and everything worked fine again.

Conclusion

Laragon is not perfect, but it’s pretty darn awesome.

While I did not test all the advanced features (like the ability to swap from Apache to NginX or downgrade to an older PHP version), the process appears simple.

The “grayed-out” menu was weird for a bit (I’m not sure why I’m still hung up on that). The email glitch is annoying, but not a show-stopper for me.

The ease of installing Laragon and a simple interface are great. Installing WordPress was a joy. Seriously, it took me many times longer to write this post than it did to install Laragon and create a new WordPress site on my laptop.

I happily give Laragon 4.5 stars out of 5.
4.5 Stars out of 5
(Image credit )

Can a WordPress theme be used as your brand?

WordPress LogoI received an interesting question recently.

I’m using the 2010 theme.  I have not found any other that I like better. Now, I’m advised that I should have the same theme running through ALL of my social media. Is it possible to use the 2010 theme for my LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.?

The short answer is, “No.” (In some forums, other people might embellish it with more colorful phrases.)

I could leave it at that, walk away and be totally justified. But I think exploring what could be the motivation behind the question adds value.

The second definition at Dictionary.com puts it this way:

Theme, n., a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art.

Let’s contrast that by borrowing a few phrases from WordPress’ use of the word Theme:

Fundamentally, the WordPress Theme system is a way to “skin” your weblog. Yet, it is more than just a “skin.” WordPress Themes… provide much more control over the look and presentation of the material on your website.

A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software.

Your social media presence, much like your presence in the greater marketing world, should have a common theme (the dictionary version) running through them. Some might call it a brand. This could include a logo, colors, typeface, tagline, or more. Some social media services allow you to make some customizations (Twitter and Facebook both let you do this to an extent).

Can a WordPress theme become your brand?

If a theme inspires or guides you, I think that’s great. You might borrow some colors from it, or take a hint in typography selection.

However, unless your theme was created specifically for you, it probably won’t work very well as a brand, especially if it is a popular one from the theme repository or one of the major theme companies.

In this case, the Twenty Ten theme is hardly distinctive. It is used on thousands of websites around the globe. Aside from the header image (which many people will change), there is little that would make it stand out. The colors are simply black and white, the fonts are nearly ubiquitous, and, at least out of the box, there is no logo that says “This is my website!”

If your website or blog is new, don’t waste time agonizing over your theme or your brand. Just make sure your theme is clean and the text is readable.

If you want to build  your site, concentrate on adding content. Search engines don’t care whether your words are set in Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri. More importantly, people can’t read the words that aren’t there.

Bluehost (Hosting) vs. WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com

I received a question today via email from someone I met at WordCamp Detroit 2011. First, go to these things. The next WordCamp  Detroit is October 6, 2012. They are great educational events. And if you know a few things and are pleasant to people, they will remember (and recommend!) you.

Second, the question reminded me just how much ignorance and confusion still exists about WordPress.

Here’s the question:

I was wondering what the difference is between BlueHost and WordPress.org when it comes to hosting my site (or blog). When I spoke with Blue Hosts’s tech support last night, they told me that there was no difference between Blue Host and WordPress.org—and that I would be getting the exact same thing, but there’s quite a price difference between Blue Host ($142) and wordpress.org ($13 a year with my domain already purchased elsewhere). Is there any truth to this?

Well, yes, there is some truth to this, but the question is also like comparing apples and paring knives (yes, lunch is overdue as I write this): You need both to serve a delicious snack, but they are very different things.

First, let’s make a distinction between WordPress and hosting.

  • WordPress is free (the meaning of free could fill another blog post) publishing software. It runs on a web server and manages and publishes website and blog information.
  • Hosting is a service where a computer with special software is connected to the internet to share web pages, manage email accounts, store files, etc.

WordPress, which is  free software, runs on a server, which costs money.

Server hardware, configuration, internet connections, etc. get very technical very quickly, and is best left to professionals. Enter companies like Bluehost, HostGator, and hundreds of others. They sell something call shared hosting, where they lease space (hard drive storage, RAM, and processor time) on their computers to various people in such a way that one computer may have dozens (or hundreds) of websites. Many of these companies make it very simple for anyone to install the free WordPress (.org) software on a shared hosting account.
That’s part of the equation. The inquiry hinted at another piece of the puzzle, but didn’t spell it out. Where does the $13/year come in?
We need another distinction, this time between WordPress dot com and WordPress dot org.
WordPress.com is a free (no cost, with upsells available, which is where the $13/year figure comes in) hosting service that runs a highly-tweaked version of the same free (no cost) WordPress software available for download from the dot-org site.
Confusing, isn’t it?
The free service available WordPress.com is very valuable. It’s fast, reliable, secure, and well maintained. In exchange for this, they impose some restrictions on what you can do: No advertising, limited ability to customize themes, and no ability to add extra plugins.
Hosting your first site on WordPress.com is a great place to begin. It’s like your first apartment after college. Eventually you will outgrow it, and you will want a house. When that happens, ask me about my hosting and webmaster service.

The American Internet Should Remain Free

Do you think the internet is important?

It has given me much over the last several years. I have made new friends, educated myself, found fun things to do and share, and been amazed at just how crazy/sad/caring our society can be. My future career and the very livelihood of millions of people depends on the infrastructure, technology, and freedom of the internet.

I don’t generally jump on bandwagons and I’m rarely vocal about causes. For this I will make an exception.

There are some crazy ideas being tossed about in Congress and the Senate right now. These have a huge potential to be poorly interpreted, cripple freedom of speech on the internet, and set our society back in time. While I understand the desire for large corporations to “protect” their “intellectual property,” I value individual freedom more.

What can you do?

First, watch this video.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Next, take a few minutes to contact your legislators and express your view about the laws being considered.

Let’s keep the internet free.

Mechanics Beats Theory

My friend was frustrated on the other end of the phone.

“I just don’t understand how my WordPress (.com) blog can be a website,” she said.

I briefly explained the difference between posts and pages, and the way different themes worked to display information. Throughout my monologue she mumbled sounds of a vague and unconvincing understanding. My brilliance wasn’t cutting through her fog.

“It actually really easy to do. You just don’t know the mechanics of the process,” I concluded.

“You hit it on the head!” she said. “I don’t get what steps to take.”

Something clicked for me in that conversation. My friend helped me understand that many people need practical, concrete examples before they can grasp the systems and information flow that many WordPress developers take for granted.

I look forward to playing with new approaches to teaching people learning and teaching styles.

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